by Eva Stelzer
The goat whisperer
The Chianti region of Italy evokes thoughts of vineyards, wine tastings and romantic towns. Imagine my surprise when a client I was guiding through Italy asked me to take her to buy cashmere scarves! This prized wool comes only from Kashmir goats found in Chianti.The Chianti Cashmere Goat Farm is a 12-minute drive through winding, dusty country roads from Radda in Chianti, midway between Florence and Siena. A visit to this 25-acre farm is an unforgettable and unique experience. Owner Nora Kravis was born in Long Island, New York. In 1972, she spent her junior year studying fine art in Italy but she harboured a passion for all things four-legged. She decided to study veterinary medicine at the Università di Pisa. Kravis became an expert on pastoralism and cashmere goat genetics, with degrees in both veterinary medicine and textile design. A young man in her veterinarian class had given her two goats as a gift. They were not from Kashmir, but it was the start of her long-lasting love affair with goats.
As a student, Kravis worked as a guide leading people on horseback through the Tuscan region. This is how she happened on a beautiful little rocky piece of land, located on the wrong side of the sun for the area’s precious grapevines but perfect for raising goats. She built her new life in a tiny, dilapidated Tuscan farmhouse nestled on the hillside of the Volpaia Valley with incredible views of rolling hills, vineyards, pastures, olive trees and woods. The farm is an agritourism destination as well as a centre for the transfer of best practices to breeders and herders. The first two goats she bought became a herd of genetically superior cashmere goats, which produce the raw material used to create a range of exclusive, hand-woven Italian cashmere accessories, home textiles and yarn.
As a veterinarian, she ensures the health of her animals at all times. “I like being with my goats the most and seeing the results of the quality of the cashmere,” she laughs. “I’d rather spend my time with my goats than anyone else.”